Play: The Color Purple
Group: Touring company
Venue: The Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand
Dates: Through November 2
Story: Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker and the subsequent film directed by Steven Spielberg, this two-act musical recounts the life of Celie, a poor, uneducated black woman living in the hellish environment of rural Georgia from 1909 to 1949. Sexually abused by the man she believes is her father, and later separated from her beloved sister Nettie who leaves home for better opportunities elsewhere, Celie endures a life of torment and abuse, first at the hands of Pa, who fathers her two children before age 14 and then takes them away from her, and then as the scorned wife of Mister, a widower who subjects her to cruel physical and emotional abuse.
While derided as “ugly” and a poor substitute for Nettie, who was Mister’s first choice for a wife to raise his kids, Celie nonetheless develops an affinity for Harpo, Mister’s son who falls in love with and marries a headstrong woman named Sofia. She marvels at Sofia’s powerful personality, and eventually builds her own self-confidence with the assistance of Shug, a worldly entertainer who is Mister’s mistress and long-time love, learning much about herself and her own abilities to survive in a frequently hostile world.
Highlights: This first touring company follows a successful run on Broadway that began in December 2005 and closed earlier this year, reuniting the original creative team of set designer John Lee Beatty, costume designer Paul Tazewell, lighting designer Brian MacDevitt, sound designer Jon Weston, orchestrations designer Jonathan Tunick and music supervisor Kevin Stites, as well as director Gary Griffin. All contribute to the handsome production, which Griffin keeps moving smoothly, thanks to several rousing numbers choreographed by Donald Byrd. The resplendent lighting work by MacDevitt is particularly noteworthy.
The book by Marsha Norman captures the tone and glorious triumph of hope in Walker’s prose, while the music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray stand out on several numbers. Of particular delight are the spirited Mysterious Ways belted out in glorious gospel style near the beginning of Act I, the lively Brown Betty tune delivered by Harpo and the townsmen at Harpo’s ‘jive joint,” and the boisterous Hell, No! sung by Sofia and the ladies.
Felicia Fields, as the high-spirited and earthy Sofia, nearly steals the show, taking utmost advantage of the work’s larger-than-life character, while Jeannette Bayardelle anchors the presentation with her powerful, resilient and affecting portrayal of the redoubtable Celie, both with her acting and her soaring voice.
Other Info: There’s fine support by Lesly Donald (on opening night) as the optimistic Harop, Rufus Bonds Jr. as the villainous Mister, Angela Robinson as the free-wheeling Shug, LaToya London as the sweet and loving Nettie and Stephanie St. James as Squeak, Harpo’s girlfriend with the high voice and even higher aspirations for success as a singer.
Successfully combining blues, jazz, gospel and pop, The Color Purple is infused with hope and resiliency and, even with several unrealistic plot turns and some slow, sappy ballads, an uplifting experience.
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.